Homemade tortellini – history

tortelli Ironside Kitchen

Homemade tortellini is one of the most important recipes of my hometown, Bologna! Along with Bolognese ragù and Lasagne, this recipe is an authentic icon of the Emilian culinary tradition. Here I’m telling you the history, the legend, and the traditional way to make tortellini. Not really easy to prepare, but a masterpiece of the Italian culture!

tortellini Ironside Kitchen

Tortellini is one of those recipes for which Italian people are ready to argue years to call for their paternity! In this case, the dispute is between the people of Bologna and Modena. Following the myth, the Tortellini were created for the first time in an Inn located in Castelfranco Emilia, a village included into the Bologna county until the Fascist period, then passed under the Modena territory. This quarrel is still burning; every year Bologna and Modena organize a contest were 5 chefs from Modena and 5 chefs from Bologna compete for the best homemade tortellini!


As the legend says, tortellini were created thanks to the creativity the publican of the Corona Inn in Castelfranco Emilia. One day, a group of nobles arrived at the Corona. They decided to break the trip and spend the night there. Waiting for the dinner, the nobles went up to their room to take a nap. The publican went up the upper floor. Peering through the slot of one of the doors he glimpsed the navel of the young daughter of one of the nobles. Fascinated by that sight, the publican went back to his kitchen and created a recipe inspired by the navel of the young Marquis: the tortellini!

On XIX century, a famous short poem wrote by Giuseppe Ceri tell the story of tortellini in a slightly different way. The events and the location are the same of the former legend, but this time the protagonists are the Latin divinities Mars, Bacchus, and Venus. In this story, the Corona publican will be inspired by the goodness of beauty’ navel!


The origin tortellini is ancient.

Back in the XII Century, it was a tradition in Bologna serve filled fresh pasta for Christmas, named “Tortellorum ad Natale”.

Originally, the filling was made with poor ingredients. Old pieces of cheese, tallow and what’s left of the meats used to prepare the stock.

On 1570, Bartolomeo Scappi, chef of the Pope Pio V, wrote the first version of Tortellini recipe, close to the present recipe.

Vincenzo Tanara describes in his book on 1664 “L’economia del cittadino in villa” tortellini cooked in a butter sauce, a famous recipe in those days, but currently fallen out of fashion.

On 1904, the world met Tortellini! In that year the Bartagni brothers found a method to preserve Tortellini for long periods and presented them at the Los Angeles Fair.

On December 7 of 1974, the “Confraternita del Tortellino” registered the official recipe of Tortellini at the Chamber of Commerce of Bologna.


Pork loin, and Prosciutto di Parma, and Mortadella, and Parmigiano Reggiano, compose the traditional recipe for tortellini filling. On the contrary many persons think, the authentic Emilian Mortadella doesn’t contain any pistachios. Tortellini Bolognesi contain more cheese than their Modenesi cousins.


The tortellini dough needs only eggs and flour, forget any oil or water! The dough is kneaded until elastic and consistent, then flatten until very thin. The right size of the dough squares for homemade tortellini is between 1 1/4 and 1 3/4 inches.


Boiled into capon stock is the classic way to serve tortellini. If the capon is not available, a decent alternative is the beef and poultry stock. You won’t cook homemade tortellini into water. Otherwise, almost all the filling will lose his flavor!


Even if internationally tortellini are prepared in many ways, Emilian people can tolerate only one recipe: cooked into meat stock. The day after, is common toss tortellini leftovers along with heavy cream and Parmigiano Reggiano.


In the areas around Bologna and Modena, there are some traditional variations.

In Romagna, Capelletti have a similar shape and size, but the filling is made with cheese and capon breast. They are tossed with meat sauce or served into Capon stock.

In Marche, ground mixed meats and cheese compose the Capelletti filling.

In Piacenza, Anolini is the typical recipe for Sunday gatherings and festivities. The filling is made with braised beef, pulled then mixed with Grana Padano and nutmeg. Originally, for the stuffing was traditional use poor meats cuts of pork and horse. Anolini are served into capon stock.

Parma culinary tradition presents a poor version of Piacenza’s Anolini. In this case, the braised meat was reserved for nobles. The workers use to make the Anolini stuffing with bread crumbles poached into the meat sauce leftover.


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